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Friday, November 23, 2007

Authors of Russia's Constitution Condemn Putin

The Moscow Times reports:

Several co-authors of the Constitution on Wednesday warned that using legal loopholes to allow President Vladimir Putin to run for a third term would threaten the legitimacy of the country's fundamental law. With Putin required to leave office when his second term ends in May, his supporters are increasingly calling for constitutional amendments and the exploitation of legal loopholes to keep the presidency in his hands. But Oleg Rumyantsev, who helped draft the Constitution from 1990 to 1993, warned against "hastily" changing the country's supreme law to accommodate a particular leader.

"It would be a blow to the constitutional order and to the legitimacy of the Constitution itself," said Rumyantsev, who heads up the Foundation for Constitutional Reforms, a nongovernmental association.

Rumyantsev was one of five co-authors of the Constitution who met with journalists Wednesday to voice their concern over the possible undermining of the law to keep Putin in power. Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, who on a seemingly daily basis promotes various strategies for Putin to continue leading the country, gave his stamp of approval Wednesday for a loophole in which Putin could resign from office before his term ends and then run again in March. This scenario would skirt a provision stating that the president cannot serve two successive terms, as there would be an interim president -- the prime minister -- between the time Putin steps down and a new election.

Vil Kikot, another author of the Constitution, said the clause on consecutive presidential terms was included under the assumption that a president succeeding a two-term leader would serve out an entire term, "not just a month." This, however, was not established in the letter of the law, only in its spirit, the authors regretfully conceded.

Stanislav Stanskikh, a legal expert with the Foundation for Constitutional Reforms, said initial drafts of the Constitution stated only that a president could serve a total of two terms. There was no mention of successive terms, he said. It was then President Boris Yeltsin's administration that demanded the stipulation about consecutive terms that would allow a former president to return to office, Stanskikh said. The Constitution would actually allow Putin, should he become prime minister, to assume most of the powers from the president without constitutional amendments, said Rumyantsev and Mikhail Mityukov, another co-author.

Addressing suggestions from top political and public figures that Putin retain power as a so-called national leader after his term ends, Rumyantsev said such a role corresponds poorly with the Constitution, under which the president is the country's sole leader. "There are countries like Iran and, perhaps, Libya, where there are national leaders who are above presidents," said another author, Viktor Sheinis. "But one sees nothing like this in a democratic country."

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